As it considered the biggest donation in its history yesterday, the Royal British Legion has reason to be thankful for the stellar negotiating tactics of U.S. lawyer Robert Barnett, the man who talked publishers up to a multi-million pound advance for Tony Blair's memoirs three years ago.
Barnett, who struck a reported $12m deal for Bill Clinton's memoirs My Life, and squeezed out $8.5m for former chairman of the Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan, started to work with Blair on a deal for his autobiography, A Journey, in the summer of 2007.
Yesterday a spokesman for the former Prime Minister, who is understood to have already received £4.6m advance for his memoirs, said he would hand over all the money he makes — including the advance — “as a way of marking the enormous sacrifice [the armed forces] make.”
Blair's spokesman said: “Tony Blair recognises the courage and sacrifice the armed forces demonstrate day in, day out. As prime minister he witnessed that for himself in Iraq, Afghanistan, Northern Ireland, Sierra Leone and Kosovo. This is his way of honouring their courage and sacrifice.” The book is expected to generate huge interest when it goes on sale on September 1: it is already in Amazon's top 20 bestselling titles and has been tipped as a big hitter by Waterstone's.
But its success was dependent on a beauty parade Barnett hosted for the cream of the U.K.'s publishers in the autumn of 2007.
The lawyer, who counts amongst his writing clients the likes of Barack Obama, thriller powerhouse James Patterson and Hillary Clinton, waved the prospect of a book by Blair — who enjoys popularity particularly in the U.S. — under the noses of around seven prospective buyers, from HarperCollins to Random House, with a price tag of up to £8m being discussed.
Rupert Murdoch's HarperCollins was thought to have the edge, but Random House — whose chief executive Gail Rebuck is married to Blair's former pollster, Lord Gould — eventually clinched it.
At the time there were suggestions that the money would go some way towards paying the mortgage on Blair's £3.5m home near Hyde Park, London, reportedly £2,50,000 a year.
But yesterday it emerged that all the money would go to help an armed forces charity build a new centre to help rehabilitate injured troops.
“It is very unusual for a politician to donate all the proceeds of his memoirs to charity, but then Blair is in a very unusual position,” said Benedicte Page, associate editor of the Bookseller. “The debate over our entry into the war in Iraq under his leadership is as intense as ever.
“Whatever his motivation in making the charitable donation, one effect of the gesture will be to defuse the criticism that he is making personal profit out of giving a public account of those highly controversial events.
“It also means people who disagree with his actions can buy the book and read it without feeling they are paying him money.” While the Royal British Legion said it was delighted to accept the largest donation in its history, there was some scepticism about Blair's motives from families of troops that have died in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Rose Gentle, an anti-Iraq war campaigner whose 19-year-old son, Fusilier Gordon Campbell Gentle, was killed in Basra in 2004, said she was pleased injured troops would benefit but said it would not change the way she felt about Blair. “It is OK doing this now but it was decisions Blair made when he was Prime Minister that got us into this situation. I still hold him responsible for the death of my son.” Adnan Sarwar, who lost two friends during tours of Iraq before leaving the army in 2007, said: “It may be a way of t rying to say sorry for what he has done, a way of giving something back to the troops, but whatever the reason I think we should accept his money and say thanks very much.”
Despite former business secretary Peter Mandelson beating him to the finish line with his own memoir The Third Man in July, expectations in the book trade are high for Blair's autobiography, initially entitled The Journey but changed to the slightly less grandiose A Journey in July. Alan Samson, Weidenfeld & Nicolson publishing director, said that the autobiographies of prime ministers are generally huge sellers. “I'm convinced it will be one of the books which people will all be buying before Christmas,” he added.
No serialisation deal
Random House is taking an unusual approach to publication, deciding against a serialisation deal with a newspaper.
Rather than drumming up pre-publication interest with reviews, review copies of the book will only be sent out on the day of publication. Samson called this approach “very shrewd”.
“It keeps control a bit more,” agreed Page. “An impartial observer would have to say that it's obviously going to concentrate the first wave of press attention on aspects of the book they have chosen to make available.” Blair will also promote publication with a signing at Waterstone's in Piccadilly, London, on September 8 where, according to the Bookseller, security will be exceptionally high — a “well—advised” move, said Samson, and only to be expected “for such a controversial figure”.
Customers cannot be photographed with Blair, he will sign a maximum of two books per customer, and there will be no personal dedications. All bags must be checked in before meeting him, and those wishing to have their book signed will have to provide proof of purchase from Waterstone's.
Whether anyone will be waving a copy of the £150 limited edition — in a cloth slip case — at Blair remains to be seen. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010